Somewhere along the line of earth science history, the greenhouse effect was tagged with a negative connotation. Ask the average person and he or she will probably tell you some fatalistic Armageddon story that the greenhouse effect is a bad thing because it's melting the polar ice caps and thus all land will be washed away by the water-or something like that. What that average person might not know is that the greenhouse effect is imperative to the well-being of many life forms on Earth because it is this phenomenon which enables the Earth to maintain a climate these life forms can survive in.
Science lessons will stop here though, because the attempt to make some bizarre analogy between the importance of the greenhouse effect to the Earth and the importance of The Greenhouse Effect to hip hop is just too pretentious and wordy. Simply put, these three guys have provided a breath of fresh air in a music industry greenhouse where many would argue the air is stuffy and humid. But these guys aren't new jacks-their 1999 EP "Up To Speed" helped them claim well-deserved critical acclaim in the underground.
For fans who pay particular attention to production, this album is a garden of Eden where nothing is forbidden. Blueprint handles all the duties for Greenhouse Effect, and it's easy to see why he's garnered the adulation of hip hop fans everywhere over the past few years. To break the production down track-by-track would be bizarre because each track is so beautifully unique, so let it be known that many of the beats include-but are not limited to-some of the following: Piano, guitars, xylophones, thick bass lines, sparse bass lines, horns, woodwinds, turntablism (scratching), organs, and harps, just to name a few. This smorgasbord of instrumentation and beat-mixing scales across all genres-from Rhythm and Blues to Jazz to Rock and everything outside and between. Not to take away from any other producer/DJ out there, but Blueprint is one of the few producers one could safely describe as a true musician. If you're looking for 20 tracks with 2-bar loops, this isn't for you. The guy knows music-and good music, at that. Perhaps the greatest irony lies in his name, Blueprint, because he obviously follows no blueprint and not many could successfully follow his blueprint.
All this and there's still two dope MC's: Inkwel and P-Dunbar (previously known as Manifest). Neither one stands apart in any one aspect of MCing, but both are all-around solid. Both MC's have strong, commanding voices which aren't exactly soothing but nowhere near overbearing. The lyrics are clear and intelligible-a characteristic grossly underrated in a rap industry full of MC's so concerned with sounding hard or squeezing syllables into bars at the expense of clarity.
Each track is unique in its own right, and yet add something to the collective whole of "Life Sentences." "To Rhyme Is Divine" borders on creepy with a steadily-stuttering bass line. "We Create" features a buoyant, inexplicably-charming riff as the fellas consider their place in the world:
"We create, elevate from what's last heard
one step closer towards mastery of words
learn more, earn more, respect from out neighbors
hoping one day to taste the fruits of our labors"
"The Proper Education" is Blueprint, again at his finest, looping what is a seemingly boring pounding-chord-effect, only to throw in his flair with some ear-pleasing chord changes with interspersions of a deep bass played with a bow. Never before did fans think they might hear flutes and harps together on a track, but it comes off effortlessly like it was a standard of hip hop on "Life Sentences." The dinging harmonics on "Artificial Intelligence" actually makes it sound possible to turn those little chimes people hang on their doors into instruments. The aptly-titled "Friction" will be a favorite of those who indulge in rock-tinged rap.
All told, one will be hard-pressed to find anything he or she doesn't like on "Life Sentences." The unpretentious, sometimes-quirky raps of MC's Inkwel and P-Dunbar are married perfectly to Blueprint's beats here like peas and carrots. Eight of the twenty tracks are under two minutes while 11 of the remaining 12 are longer than 4 minutes-which may seem a bit odd, but to if you push play and let this album roll through in its entirety, it makes perfect sense; you won't even notice one track turning into the next. For those who may feel like they're breathing in stagnant air right now, step into this new definition of The Greenhouse Effect-it's a heck of a lot nicer than the old one.
Music Vibes: 9.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: November 4, 2003